After making a smooth sporting transition Mitch Crawford reckons he was more emotional watching his former Newcastle City teammates in last year's Black Diamond AFL grand final than plying his new trade in US college football.
The 24-year-old Lambton punter was in a hotel room on a Friday night, game eve for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), cheering on the Blues back at No.1 Sportsground.
“I was up til about 2:30 or 3 in the morning, because of the time difference, watching the boys get up,” Crawford told the Newcastle Herald.
“That was probably the most excited I got all year, because obviously I can’t get too excited or nervous in my games. But I always get more nervous when I don’t have any control of it.”
One of three seasons down at UTEP, who threw him a late lifeline when an earlier deal with Vanderbilt fell through, Crawford has relished the code swap but was home over the Christmas period enjoying the Australian summer and family hospitality.
He regularly has to “pinch himself playing a different sport on the other side of the world” and the 2016 Black Diamond AFL leading goal scorer, featuring 71 majors in the regular rounds followed by a premiership, won’t be back on an Australian rules field any time soon.
The former Swans academy representative would even consider kicking on and staying in America beyond his communication studies if the chance to continue gridiron presented itself.
“Everything I’ve always wanted to do I’ve wanted to do at the highest level. So after going down to Melbourne for training and a few years of college, I’d be silly to turn down an opportunity if it came around, he said.
“Obviously there’s a long way to go, so at the moment I’m just focused on the last couple of years in college and trying to do as well as I can.”
Crawford has also kept a close eye on the progress of Australian kickers making their way in the NFL such as Michael Dickson (Seattle Seahawks), Cam Johnston (Philadelphia Eagles) and Jordan Berry (Pittsburgh Steelers).
After his debut campaign he feels more comfortable with his specialist punting role, not kicking goals, for the UTEP Miners.
“It took a while get used to,” Crawford said.
“You might only have two or three kicks. I guess it’s like any defensive player – if you do your job you don’t get noticed but when you do stuff up you do get noticed.
“It’s like having that shot after the siren every time you go out to kick.”
Crawford’s best effort in 2018 was 66 yards, which is measured in front at the line of scrimmage.
“They [American football] shoot off a bit more when you hit the sweet spot,” he said.
UTEP are coming off a disappointing year, winning only one game, but Crawford said he hoped the Miners would improve in 2019.
He earned an honourable mention in the Conference USA team of the year.
Pre-season training resumes next month but official matches don’t start until August.